The Stanley Parable [App o’ the Mornin’]

The Stanley Parable (PC/Mac: $15, free demo available) is one of the most peculiar, unusual, and daring games to come down the pike in a long, long time.

Where Papers Please has a clear gameplay element, The Stanley Parable has none. Like Dear Esther, it’s part of the new genre of “first-person walkers” in which things happen and story unfolds simply by walking through a game world. In Dear Esther, walking around an island triggered fragmentary story elements that eventually coalesced into a narrative. It was an interesting experiment, but ultimately unsatisfying.

The Stanley Parable makes Dear Esther look like a Dick and Jane book. It is unrelentingly clever, overflowing with ideas, jokes, hairpin mood shifts, and narrative jolts, all of it adding up to a striking meta-commentary on the process of playing games.

The titular character is an office drone who sits at his desk looking at a monitor and punching a key whenever instructed. The tone recalls Terry Gilliam’s dystopian film Brazil, where humans are reduced to cogs in a mindless bureaucracy that exists only to perpetuate itself. Just like modern America.
Everything we know about him is explained by an omnipresent narrator, who alternately directs Stanley (you) what to do and explains what you’re doing. Sometimes he taunts, sometimes he tried to coax and teach, and sometimes he just goes mad. The narrator is one of the best-written, best-acted voices in any computer game since GLaDOS in Portal. With his light and soothing English accent, he sounds the way I imagined the voice of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Since you never actually see Stanley (not even, as the narrator observes at one point, his feet), the narrator is the true main character: simultaneously your own voice and the voice of the game designer. It’s a frankly stunning bit of writing and performance that is at the center of the entire experience.

The game begins one morning as Stanley gets up from his desk for a meeting, only to find his entire office abandoned. Not a soul is in sight. He follows the prompts of the narrator and walks to the meeting room. He comes to two doors. The narrator directs him (you) to take the left door.

Of course, you take the right.

And The Stanley Parable is off. The most you ever do is punch a couple of buttons. You can’t run, jump, move objects, or interact with almost everything. All you can do is choose where to walk, and the odd button to push.

The result is a surreal choose-your-own-adventure in which you rehearse all the tropes of interactive entertainment, search for meaning, and try to understand just what’s going on in this world. There are many “endings,” including the most obvious “good” ending in which you emerge into the sunlight of a beautiful day, free of a totalitarian system that was created to crush your individuality.

Oddly enough, that’s the least interesting ending. I can’t say too much because it would spoil the surprise of what The Stanley Parable is attempting to do, but I can give you a small taste. At one point, the narrator is taunting you because your choices indicate you don’t like this game very much, and suddenly you find yourself in … Minecraft. Actually in the game Minecraft! And from there you travel down a hole and fine yourself in … Portal! (The Stanley Parable began as a Half-Life mod.)

The meta-commentary folds in on itself so many times it turns into a Chinese puzzle box, almost impossible to unfold in any rational sense. In the course of unfolding, the game actually falls prey to the cliches its attempting to mock, creating even more folds in the meta-commentary.

It’s a dazzling display of narrative chutzpah, and the most potent commentary on the medium of gaming I’ve ever experience. It is not for everyone. Its “gamelessness” and in-jokes will put off any but real devotees of the medium. But for those who’ve been playing games a long time, it’s like a combination surrealist film and insightful essay all laid out in a game format that ask you to do little more than walk.

Brand New Verbum Bible Software Packages!

I get excited easily when it comes to new releases from Verbum, the Catholic Bible study software created Logos Bible Software. Today–Black Friday–they are releasing new bundles with some remarkable and welcome improvements.

These new “Verbum Plus Libraries” are updated to include a Catholic Topical Index, Saints Database, restructured librareis, more books, improved lectionary support, and other improvements.

Here’s the official rundown of new features:

• Roman Missal now opens automatically (The Missal, in English is now included in Foundations Plus)
• Look ahead or back and choose the liturgical reading you want to view from a calendar
• Displays titles of readings instead of verse numbers only
• New icon indicating liturgical color

• New database of over 500 Saints and their feast days
• High resolution images for over half of the Saint entries
• Navigate through the saints and their feast days right on your homepage

• Huge reference index, hand-compiled by scholars here at Verbum
• Doctrinal in nature
• Shows up by default in Cited By Tool and the Topic Guide
• Filled with topics especially relevant to Catholic doctrine
•Study topics like absolution, Eucharist etc, and see where scripture verses, Catechism references, and Ecclesial writings that pertain to that topic are located in your library
• Works best with more resources/bigger libraries

Each of the packages–Basic, Foundations, Scripture Study, Master, and Captone–add more resources and power as they go up in price. Verbum is expensive, but I would not be able to do my Masters in Theology work, Catholic writing, lecturing and even some of my blogging without it.

Verbum is at the heart of my system for writing about theology and preparing lessons, and its ability to drill down through massive amounts of text and language resources is the kind of thing that compresses the work of a week into seconds. They keep adding great resources and features, and although I’ve only had a little time to look at the new version, it looks like a solid upgrade created with Catholics in mind.

New Titles For Verbum/Logos

Verbum Bible Software continues to be the center of my academic world, particularly now that I’ve begun the final semester of my masters program with two scripture classes. I got word from Alex Renn at Logos/Verbum that some new stuff is available, or soon to be available:

Fathers of the Church Series (127 vols.): This is the big one, folks. The current “Fathers” series is nice, but those are old translations with gaps. The new Fathers set will have titles not seen in English, and be a more complete set of patristic texts. Expensive, but essential for masters and PhD work.

Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry (13 vols.): I’m very curious about this series, which is a fresh commentary that studies OT texts as they are, rather than trying to source them to death.

The Aramaic Bible Series (22 vols.): This one’s pretty hardcore: all extant targums translated into English. Aramaic, rather than Hebrew,was the dominant language in the century before Christ, and these translations and paraphrases provide an important link to the Judaism before, during, and after the life of Christ.

Sacra Pagina New Testament Commentary Series (18 vols.): New translations and commentaries of NT texts in a project akin to the old Anchor Bible series.

Catholic Scripture Study International Studies (30 vols.): Short Bible commentaries by Scott Hahn, Mark Shea, Cindy Morales, Steve Ray, and others. 

Peter Kreeft Bundle (27 vols.): Includes his Socrates series, apologetics, and theological works.

Catholic Answers Collection (21 vols.): This is a set of publications from Catholic Answers, ranging from pamphlets to full books by Karl Keating, Jimmy Akin, and others. 


My Home Screens

Slacktacular August continues as I soak up some R&R following a harrowing month of personal tragedies and my annual Giant Project (the Games Magazine Games 100 guide). Today I have to break from my break to tackle some curriculum writing, but not wanting to leave a me-shaped hole in the blogosphere, and indulging the narcissism implicit in blogging, I give you these glimpses of my work space.

I’m oddly fascinated with what people put on their home screens, partly because most people don’t spend precious moments of life tuning their devices to a fare-thee-well and thus their home screens are offensively disorganized.

I know this will seem like a pointless post to some, but many people also are oddly fascinated by this kind of thing.

I work among three devices: laptop, iPad, and iPhone, with a desktop PC for gaming. Here’s the iPad : 

Left to right, top to bottom, I have:

  • Work Folder: Various text editors, scanners, cloud storage, etc.
  • Media Folder: Streaming media, photo and video editing, and media guides.
  • Words Folder: Book apps, social media, news, etc.
  • Board Games
  • Card Games
  • Settings
  • iAWriter: Plain text editor: very simple, very zen.
  • Dropbox: The heart of the system.
  • Notability: I use this for recording interviews and taking notes, as well as for marking up PDFs.
  • MagicalPad. Mind-mapping. I haven’t gotten in the habit of using it yet, but I keep it there as a prompt, and you can use it for straight-up outlining. 
  • Photogene: My preferred photo editing, for the moment.
  • Recorder Pro: Voice recording for notes.
  • 30/30: Time management software. It’s hugely effectively for getting things done in tiny slices. I keep settings for 15, 30, and 60 minutes and just rotate through them as I need.
  • Disqus: Comment management page in Safari, since Disqus has no app.
  • Instapaper: I push stories to Instapaper for reading later.
  • News360: A decent way to get a selection of stories on pre-set set topics.
  • IMDB: You know that guy who was in that thing? Yeah, what’s his name?
  • Verbum: Indispensable Bible software.
  • Universalis: My Liturgy of the Hours. 
  • Kindle: Obviously
  • Dock: Chrome, Mail, Newsify (the ONLY RSS reader), Evernote, Toodledo (task management), Drafts (text capture)
  • Wallpaper: Rotating. This is Gyro Gearloose. Because.

A note about Drafts: This has become key to my work. It’s not quite as good as iAwriter for long text writing, but I use it for taking quick notes, which I can enter using voice. (I gave up on Dragon after it crashed too many times with completely dictated article drafts left unsaved.) The beauty of Drafts is that you can push text anywhere: Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook: any place at all. It can append text to a file, create new files, and do all kinds of magic. I love it.

Here’s the iPhone:

This duplicates the iPad more or less, with a few iPhone-specific things:

  • gMusic: A really awful GooglePlay streamer that I have to use as I wait impatiently for Google’s native app.
  • CFSAC: Flashlight.
  • VSCOcam: Camera. I’m trying this out for a little while, but I’m not sure I’m keeping it. Camera+ is my standard goto for pictures.

And here’s the desktop:

PC taskbar, left to right:

  • Postbox: Mail software.
  • Chrome: Browser.
  • Open Office Word: I’m done with Microsoft Office products, but I still need to use Word.
  • Scrivener: I’ve been using this as my main word processor for almost a year. A sheer delight.
  • Evernote: Obviously.
  • Verbum: Bible software.
  • Folder: Root directory.
  • Corel Paint Shop Pro: My preferred photo editing for a long time now.
  • Kindle: For cutting and pasting citations.
  • Calculator
  • iTunes: I really, truly hate it.

Here’s my desk at the moment:


Verbum Prepares a Massive Patristic Collection

You don’t spend any time in deep study of the Church Fathers without coming across some reference to the Patrologiae Cursus Completus of Fr. Jacques Paul Migne. Fr. Migne’s goal was truly epic: create a cheap series of books collecting the complete writings of the Church Fathers, Greek and Latin.

His editions were massive and done with some haste, so they’ve been subjected to criticism over the years, but they remain the single largest source of patristic writing ever compiled. The English translations from Philip Schaff, which are in wide use on the internet and within the Verbum Bible Software, were based on Migne’s originals, but do not represent the complete corpus, which has never been rendered in English in its entirety.

Over the years, better, more academic texts and translations have replaced individual works from the Patrologiae, but there is no single source like it.

Verbum is bringing this treasure of the Church to their software in two editions: Patrologiae Latina (221 volumes of Western Fathers) Patrilogiae Graeca (167 volumes of Eastern Fathers). Each of these is currently on pre-publication sale for $250, which is a flat-out steal for academics and theology students. They’re also publishing  a set that includes Patrologia Syriaca (2 volumes) and Orientalis (17 volumes). These supplements were created by Rene Graffin to fill in the gaps of Migne’s work with writings from the Syriac Church Fathers as well as texts in Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Greek, Georgian, and Slavonic.

The editions are full of introductions, critical and supplementary material, and are fully adapted to the Verbum/Logos format. This means they are cross-linked the Schaff editions in English, which means you can spot check Schaff against the originals.

“But Tom,” I hear you saying. “I don’t read Latin or Greek! What’s a body to do?!”

Look, my Latin is wretched. I was a C-student, and time hasn’t improved it all that much despite my occasional forays into Wheelock. As for my Greek? A-ho-ho-he-he-ha! You know what Ben Jonson said about Shakespeare? “Small Latin and less Greek.” It’s like that, but worse. Here’s a picture from my desk:

Sad, isn’t it? I still need to count on my fingers, too.

But that’s the beauty of Verbum. Their language tools provide a sturdy crutch for the Latin/Greek challenged. You can pick your way through the text with the help of various dictionaries and word-study aids. It’s a beautiful thing.

This will be one of the jewels in Verbum’s crown for the serious academic. Order early to lock in a good price, because it’s not going to be $250 forever.

Upcoming from Verbum (Logos)

Verbum is charging ahead with more releases, many now on “pre-pub.” This means they’re gathering interesting by taking pre-orders, at a reduced price. That enables them to determine user interest in a certain title or bundle.

For example, Edward Schillebeeckx Collected Works (14 vols.), isn’t really something at the top of my list. But tell me you’re working on Select Works of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI (21 vols.)The Homilies and Angeli of Pope John Paul II (8 vols.) by John Paul II, or the first English translation of Aquinas’ Commentary on the Prophet Jeremiah: English and Latin (2 vols.), and I’m there, baby.

A new, larger Benedict/Ratzinger set is also on the way. The Select Works of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI (21 vols.) includes the following items:

 Another nice set, currently on community pricing, is Post-Reformation Catholic Thought and Piety (27 vols.). With community pricing, people bid on the highest price they’re willing to pay for the set. If the set goes lower, you pay the lesser price.

Here’s the official description of this set:

The Catholic Church has honored only 35 people with the title “Doctor of the Church,” recognizing them for their eminent learning and great sanctity. Nine of these thinkers have lived in the past five centuries: St. John of Ávila (1500–1569), St. Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582), St. John of the Cross (1542–1591), St. Peter Canisius (1521–1597), St. Lawrence of Brindisi (1559–1619), St. Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621), St. Francis de Sales (1567–1622), St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696–1787), and St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873–1897). Their brilliant works vary from Scriptural commentary, to mystical poetry, to catechetical instruction and spiritual direction, and will add historical, intellectual, and spiritual depth to your Logos library.

The Post-Reformation Catholic Thought and Piety (27 vols.) collection offers writings from each of these modern Doctors (with the exceptions of St. John of Ávila and Thérèse of Lisieux—whose Story of a Soul is available separately). Taken together, their writings provide a window into Catholic thought and piety as the Church faced the struggles of the Reformation and of modern society. But they are of more than historical importance. As is evidenced in their continued and profound influence on contemporary Christian thought and piety, the insights and spiritual accomplishments of the modern Doctors are of enduring value.

News From Verbum: Android App, Ignatius Study Bible, & More

Verbum for Android

Verbum (formerly Logos Catholic Bible Study Software) has some news:

  • First off, the software is finally available for Android devices, with a free app that provides access to your Verbum library. Check it out at either Google Play or Amazon.
  •  The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible is coming to the system and is now on pre-order. This package includes the RSV 2nd Catholic Edition, and comes with not only the whole New Testament, but also the first two available OT books from the series: Genesis and Exodus. This is a great work from Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch. It’s perfectly accessible to everyday readers, but I’ve also made use of it in graduate-level work.
  • Some big announcements should be coming soon, including more packages and releases from Ignatius Press and Liturgical Press.
  • Verbum is hiring. They need Spanish-Language Marketing Specialist, a National Software Presenter, and a Marketing Assistant, all from their Bellingham WA offices.

I use Verbum almost every day and it’s essential to my work and my study. Check out the packages.

The Tweeting Pope

It just sounds strange, doesn’t it? Like the bishop of Rome is outside my window, tweeting along with the birds. But it’s not the sound of birds: it’s the voice of Peter, echoing down the millennia, and finding a new wineskin for the new wine of the gospel.

The news is all over the net today, so you’ve probably already had a chance to check out his initial message and his answers to questions posted on the #askpontifex hashtag. For a man who’s written thousands of pages, compressing his message into 140 characters without sounding like a fortune cookie will be a challenge, but he seems to be rising to it. His first question and answer:

How can we celebrate the Year of Faith better in our daily lives?

By speaking with Jesus in prayer, listening to what he tells you in the Gospel and looking for him in those in need

Short and to the point. That’s about all he can do with the format, and that’s enough. See, it was never about what he said on his Twitter stream: it was about him being there. He just needs to be in a place where the gospel message can be preached and heard, and Twitter is such a place.

As the old media yields to the new, the Church has an opportunity to better control her message, and social media is essential to that process. When the pope’s words pass through the mass media, they are inevitably misunderstood and sensationalized. Most recently, there were headlines such as “Pope Cancels Christmas” because he made some routine observations about the dating of Jesus’ birth in his most recent book. The pope does best when people directly experience his words, warmth, charity, wisdom and immense humanity free from the distorting effect of secondhand reporting.

There is, of course, risk in this. The hashtag #askpontifex was quickly hijacked by people spewing astonishing levels of ignorance, bigotry, and hatred before the man had even tweeted a single letter. This is nothing we need to fear. The first popes met violent deaths at the hands of persecutors, so a few keyboard commandos are pretty small beans by comparison. The Church needs to be wherever the people are to bring them the gospel message. The message isn’t reserved for the faithful, but for every human being on the face of this earth. Right now, many of them are plugged into social media such as Twitter. This is exactly where he needs to be.

Just do yourself a favor: don’t hit the “expand” box on his Tweets. @pontifex and #askpontifex are being swamped with juvenile haters. It’s a potent reminder that the world is full of dead-eyed people consumed by their own venom and stupidity. Yet at the same time, these very people are being exposed to a man whose is saying nothing to them but message of hope, peace, love, and charity.

When you tell the world to hope, pray, and look for Jesus in the faces of the needy, and they respond with “f*ck you you child molesting old queen,” that doesn’t say a thing about the pope or his message. It says volumes about the demonic forces unleashed in our world. It’s nice for Catholics to see a tweet from the pope, but it’s important for the haters to see one.

And you know what? Whatever their reply–however minimal their level of comprehension–they are hearing the message. Sometimes you have to cast a lot of mustard seeds into the dirt before one finds a good purchase.

Verbum: The New Logos for Catholics

I’ve used Logos Bible study software for used for many years, so when they began creating products aimed at the Catholic market, I was delighted. In the past year, Logos has been adding new titles and features specifically for Catholics, and now they have decided to turn that product line into its own brand: Verbum.

Thus far, I haven’t too deeply into some of the new features, but I’m pleased to see the easier search functions for catechism, church fathers, and church documents. These allow you to see, for example, every church document referencing John 1:1. It was possible to create groups like this manually, but it was labor intensive and each collection had to be updated each time a new text was added to the library.

I’m also pleased to see a much more robust set of Latin tools to compliment to Greek and Hebrew tools already developed by Logos. Evangelicals have no real need for Latin, but for Catholics in can be essential. I’m in a class on Christology right now where my ability to instantly swap back and forth between the Latin and English texts of the Summa is essential. St. Thomas requires some very special understanding of terminology and language, and sometimes it can really only be grasped at the Latin level.

The new series is offered in five packages ranging from Basic (226 resources) to Capstone (1020 resources). You can see what each package offers and decide which is the best fit for your needs. If you use the coupon code “Logos5Verbum” you get 15% off.

I had a chance to ask Andrew Jones, Director of Catholic Products for Logos, some questions about the new product line:

Why was Verbum created, and what distinguishes it from Logos?

What we’ve done with Verbum is taken the Logos 5 software and tweaked it here and there to make it better for Catholics. The idea was that while most of the tools and functions of Logos have great value to both Catholics and Protestants, there are certain things that Catholics do differently that needed our attention. Not least among these is our preferred texts. The software relies on a certain prioritized list of books. Whenever two books could occupy the same place, the software orders them according to this priority list. So, one of the things that we have done with Verbum is put the Catholic works at the top of the list. This may seem like a minor tweak, but it actually has significant consequences

Was there a feeling that Catholics needed a product that was somewhat separate from Logos, which is product with strong Evangelical roots?

There is just no way around the fact that Catholics and Evangelicals approach the study of Christianity in different ways and making use of different resources. It is a testament to the versatility of Logos’s software that Catholics could use it for our style of study and Evangelicals could use it for theirs. This remains the case. Verbum has all the functionality of the main Logos 5 product line. However, I felt that Catholics could be better served by producing a special version of the software just for them. It was important that Catholics could just pull the product off the shelve, open it up, and start using it without having to negotiate any sort of denominational “problems.” So, when you open Verbum for the first time, you will see a Catholic Bible, the Catholic lectionary, a Catholic blog feed and things like that. Verbum users are still a part of the Logos universe, with all the benefits that go along with that, but they have their own home now.

What are some of the new tools that are specifically tailored for Catholics?

One of the things we did was create default segments within the library of texts. There are three of them: Catechism, Church Fathers, and Church Documents. These segments allow for some simple, but very useful, functionality. For example, if you are doing a search on the word “Eucharist,” you can very quickly limit it to just the writings of the Church Fathers or to the Catechism. We have incorporated these segments into what we call the Passage Guide. The Passage Guide is a tool that behaves like a dynamic study Bible. So, if you are reading a certain passage in the Bible, the tool goes into your library, pulls out relevant information on that passage, and presents it to you in a useful format. In Verbum’s Passage Guide, you can see immediately how the Catechism uses the passage in question, where the documents of the Magisterium have cited it, and how the Church Fathers treated it. You can also see when the passage is read in Mass and with what other readings. This is in addition to the normal Passage Guide tools like cross references, parallel passages, maps, commentaries, and the like. You get the same sort of behavior in other Logos tools.

What are some of the new features of Logos Version 5

Logos 5 has a bunch of new features. For example, with the Clause Search you can do things like search for every sentence in the Bible where Jesus is the subject and Peter is the indirect object, even if pronouns are used. We have the Universal Timeline, which makes dates in Logos resources links, so that you can immediately see a certain event within the context of world or Biblical history. There’s the Topic Guide that allows you to pull information from the Bible and from throughout your library that is relevant for a certain topic. There’re new smart search features that suggest possible queries that are far more complex than that of a search engine like Google. We also have a lot of social media functionality. So, you can make a note in your Bible or Catechism or any other work and share it with a group. The members of the group can reply to your note and make their own—You can study the faith together with discussion threads right in the texts.

What are some of the new books being added to the base packages? 

We’ve added scores of books. We have the all the papal encyclicals since 1740; we have the Papal Exhortations and Constitutions of John Paul II and Benedict XVI; we have a reverse interlinear of the RSVCE; we have sermons of St. Thomas Aquinas, history works, reference books, and of course many, many different Bible texts. The full lists can be seen here.

Study the Catechism in a Year With Logos

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, and to offer a opportunity to reflect on the gift of our faith, Pope Benedict has declared a Year of Faith beginning October 11th. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wants this to a be a year for people to “deepen their knowledge of the primary documents of the Second Vatican Council and their study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.” The best way to do this is to study the Catechism, and Logos Bible Software is offering a neat way to do just that.

Using Logos’s Faithlife tools and their bible study software, you can read the Catechism along with a group of the faithful, make comments, ask questions, and discuss issues. You can sign up for the program by going here and clicking the Join button. Once you connect Faithlife with your Logos software, this little icon will appear on your Logos homepage:

As you can see, it offers weekly readings in small chunks, and the Faithlife tools allow you to comment upon and discuss the readings each week. Even better, Logos offers free apps for the major mobile devices, so you can follow the reading plan and discussions that way as well.

The beauty of Logos is that it hyperlinks all the Biblical citations so you can pop to them instantly. If you have one of the bigger Logos sets, this power extends to even more citations, so if St. Thomas or a Council document is cited and you own that resource, you can see a quote or reference in context. There is simply no better way to study the Catechism than with Logos. Yes, it gets expensive to have all those resources, but if you’re a student, serious layperson, or involved in some ministry, it’s an excellent tool to own.

You can read more about the program at Verbum, the official blog for the Logos Catholic program.

An example of the Logos CCC, with hyperlinks straight to a specific Summa citation

If you use the coupon code WS18543, you’ll even save 15% off the 9-volume CCC Collection, and it works on base packages as well. Ends Sunday.

Find out more about the Logos CCC here, or view a tutorial here.